Is the COVID-19 pandemic a silver lining?
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to make headlines, with sad warnings about its poor health and economic consequences. However, every now and then, a positive message sneak through.
Emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants have decreased as a result of the long-term lockdown and reduced economic activity. Improved air quality has been hailed as a crucial side benefit of the crisis in many locations. COVID-19's limitations halted travel and traffic seemed to vanish across the country. After a few weeks, air pollution levels in cities across dropped dramatically, visibility increased, and our area enjoyed its cleanest air in decades.
The shutdown, however, was not the sole factor in the significant improvement in air quality. Another factor that has helped us avoid days with high levels of air pollution is the weather. Because of the rainy and windy weather this spring, most of the existing pollutants were easily disseminated and reduced. It is possible to improve air quality quickly, as evidenced by the dramatic changes in air quality over the last year.That is why everyone must contribute to the fight for cleaner air and a more sustainable future. Every action you take to reduce the usage of fossil fuels will benefit future generations' lives and future prospects.
Is reducing pollution really the silver lining of the Covid-19 epidemic when economic activity kicks up again?
No, and there are at least three reasons for that.
First, lowering environmental pressures was extremely expensive. The unexpected closure of entire industries and a drop-in economic activity had nothing to do with advancements in the way we produce or consume. When economic growth resumes – and who doesn't want to see the global economy add employment again? – emission levels will rise in tandem.
Second, despite lower environmental demands in 2020, the quality of the environment did not improve significantly. Concentrations of greenhouse gases did not decrease, and concentrations, not emissions, determine climate change. Similarly, any reduction in air pollution-related illnesses and premature deaths was short-lived once activities restarted. The usage of raw materials fell, partly due to the postponement or cancellation of development projects. Land use change was barely altered, meaning that ecosystem pressure and biodiversity loss will continue.
Third, while the pandemic is likely to have long-term consequences on environmental pressures, these effects will fade with time. Furthermore, growth rates in emissions, material usage, and land use change are expected to fully recover in the coming years.
We can make a silver lining out of this
Of course, the future is unpredictable, and the connection between economic activity and environmental damage may lessen with time. However, forecasts using a large-scale model reveal that, with present policy, greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, material use, and land use change levels could be a few percent lower by 2030 or 2040 than they would have been without the epidemic.
This is a sliver of a silver lining, but keep in mind that these long-term reductions are the result of decreased economic activity, not of cleaner and more resource efficient production and consumption practises.